Indie Tee Spotlight #10: Fuzzy Ink

Welcome to week 10 of the Indie Tee Spotlight series! I can’t believe I’ve been at this for a whopping 10 weeks now! I have to say that I appreciate all the brands and designers that have worked with me on this for the last 10 weeks and I look forward to working with more of you in the near future! 

This week I am happy to say that I am featuring one of the “funnest” and arguably the most hairy brands around, Fuzzy Ink! They recently made huge splashes with their Series Two shirts featuring the artwork of Craig Watkins aka Wotto in the tee design world. John Paul, Mike Paul and Justin Stimmel of Fuzzy Ink were kind enough to chat with me about how Fuzzy Ink was conceived, why mustaches are a requirement for Fuzzy Ink employees (maybe) and some of the highs and lows of working in the tee shirt business. 

Coty: The Fuzzy Ink brand is so interesting; it’s built around, of all things, the manly mustache! How did you come up with this concept? Where’d you get your mustache inspiration from? How long has Fuzzy Ink been in operation?

Fuzzy Ink: I wish we had a compelling story to blow you out of the water, but the formation of Fuzzy Ink can be illustrated in a few short sentences.  December of ‘07 John and I were back home in upstate NY for the Christmas holiday.  As entrepreneurs at heart, we were throwing around random get-rich-quickly schemes.  One of us mentioned just throwing a bunch of mustaches on random objects for enhanced comedic value and the idea just seemed to resonate.  It was one of those situations where we silently looked at each other, smirked and realized that maybe the idea was worth some additional brainstorming.  (I also think it’s worth noting that our father has had a mustache since he was 21 and we have literally never seen his upper lip free of fuzz).

Over the next month or so we put together an overwhelming list of ideas and then approached Justin, a graphic designer we knew through the lovely sport of soccer (futbol for the Europeans).  From roughly February ’08 until the end of May, we spent our time making heaps of purchases (screenprinter, shirts, ink, screens, loads of shop towels, etc. etc.) designing and skinning the website and learning the significant tricks of the trade.  Finally in late May we launched our baby to the masses with bated breath.  So to answer your question, currently we’ve been in operation a few days over 5 months.

Coty: Many of your tees have featured the artwork of Craig Watkins, better known in the t-shirt design world as Wotto. What has it been like to work with Wotto and why do you think his artwork matches so well with the Fuzzy Ink brand? 

Fuzzy Ink: We honestly have nothing but positive things to say about Craig aka the Wottster as he has been an absolutely phenomenal person to work with.  Although our initial collaboration started as a more professional-based endeavor, we quickly realized that Craig was better suited as a friend.  With regard to his artistic styling, he produces amazingly unique pieces that are whimsical and playful in nature.  As kids at heart ourselves, we were instantly attracted to the brilliant Scotsman’s creations.  Additionally, although he lets his imagination run wild on the canvas, in the business world he’s a spot on professional.  Not only has he shattered our expectations with his nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, but he has also provided endless promotion for his design contributions.  Craig truly is an unbelievably caring and kind-hearted gentlemen and we’ll certainly be combining forces again in the very near future =)

Coty: On the topic of mustaches, it would be a bit hypocritical if you didn’t sport one yourself! So the million dollar question is does the mind behind Fuzzy Ink sport a thick mustache much like the ones he promotes and sells? Do you require all Fuzzy Ink employees to sport mustaches as well?

Fuzzy Ink: Is it a crime to be hypocritical (slowly backs out of the room).  The proper answer is yes…unfortunately the honest answer is no.  We have definitely attempted to grow the ‘stache on a number of occasions, but none of us seem to have been blessed with a lovely plethora of magical mustache locks.  You will be excited to know though, that all of us are currently participating in Movember and thus are showcasing the patchy, pedophile look for the time being; there’s definitely no guarantee we’ll make it through the 2nd week though.  With regard to employee ‘staches, we’d like to think that if we actually had other team members, we would indeed crack down on their facial hair habits and require a strong, majestic soup strainer.  Yes, yes you should practice what you preach, which is why we would all be wearing beautifully hand-crafted fake mustaches as we gave any order ;).  We’re still giving thought to the female option though…

Coty: The Fuzzy Ink catalog of tees is growing. If you had to choose your de facto favorite design, which would it be and why? 

Fuzzy Ink: Because tastes and perspectives vary with each individual, we’ll list the specific favorites of each Fuzzy member:

Mike:  Tough question, but I would have to choose You’re Nick’d Guv; I was immediately drawn to this older Wotto design and as John can vouch (please forgive me Craig!!!) I crossed my fingers that 90 days would be reached before Threadless picked it up.  It’s just a really fun design and I could honestly rock that shirt every day of the week.

John:  For me, Striking has that simple yet complex look to it that makes it my favorite shirt in the collection. Everything about that design just works for me, from the contrast of the cyan and asphalt to the placement of the composition on the t-shirt. Definitely a shirt that I wear more than once in a normal week.

Justin:  Sometimes the best designs come about when you’re not trying to design anything at all. That was the case with Striking. It started out as just digital doodling and ended up being my favorite simple yet striking design in the Fuzzy fleet.

Coty: I just wanted to add that my favorite has got to be I Got 99 Staches… (though I am reaaaally thinking about picking up Striking!). 

Coty: You currently have a new zip-up for presale; is this the beginning of Fuzzy Ink moving beyond selling just tees and faux mustaches?

Fuzzy Ink: Absolutely!!!  We don’t want to spill all of the beans on our surprises in production, but we fully intend to embrace the cooler seasons of the year.  Additionally, in the very near future we’ll be introducing more accessories, some of which probably haven’t been seen in quite a few years (wink wink).  The current market is so saturated with identical products that the only way to distance and separate yourself from the competition (besides getting your hands on a few venture capitalists) is to offer unique and uncommon merchandise.

Coty: What has been the most challenging part for you in terms of running Fuzzy Ink? What do you like the most (and least) about the t-shirt design business? 

Fuzzy Ink: Hands down, the most challenging part about running Fuzzy Ink is literally having our hands in every aspect of the process.  Early on in our brainstorming, we decided that it would be most efficient to actually purchase a screenprinter and make the shirts ourselves in-house.  Throw into the mix all of the designing (website and apparel), screen setup, button-making, marketing, blogging, shipping, etc. and you have a very complex amalgamation of tasks.  Although things have been very daunting at times, it has definitely helped us to become immensely well-rounded with regard to the t-shirt environment as a whole. 

As with just about anything, there are highs and lows in the t-shirt business.  The most rewarding experience for us is two fold.  For starters, I don’t know if there’s a better feeling than when you make a sale (well maybe 30 sales =).  Much like myself, there are millions of professional browsers that do wonders for website hits, but just never seem to make that important transition to the checkout.  Knowing someone donated their hard-earned (assumed) money to sport one of our shirts, belts, buttons, etc. gives you great pride and motivation to crank up the production even higher.  Secondly, the launch of Fuzzy Ink has introduced us to an amazing number of people.  Sure networking can give you a leg-up with essential constituents and partners, but aside from business needs we’ve also gained a lot of quality friends.

At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had the unfortunate luck of meeting some not-so-lovely individuals as well.  One in particular helped us to initially sell a certain shirt and things were going brilliantly.  Fast forward a few months and this bang up character is nowhere to be found, much like a large chunk of our change.  Although this current situation is still pending, we’re definitely a bit smarter when it comes to collaborating because in much of business the typical rules can be thrown right out the window. 

Coty: As an independent brand I am sure that you received fan mail from people that love Fuzzy Ink. Has there been any one fan in particular that has stuck out in your mind or maybe a particularly interesting photo submission?

Fuzzy Ink: Well we have had a number of interesting submissions, but probably the most memorable feedback we’ve received came at one of the craftshows we attended.  Probably about an hour or two into the show, a younger female approached our booth with an enormous smile.  She absolutely adored the Stache Anything shirt and we proceeded to have a wonderfully detailed conversation about John Cusack, our favorite movies growing up and of course loads of other nonsensical things.  Additionally, the same day we met a grizzled man who although probably a bit on the tipsy side, shared with us some great nostalgic stories about famous mustached men and their claims to fame.  Overall, it’s great to receive feedback through all mediums.  We welcome constructive comments and hope people continue to critique our unique creations. 

Justin, John and Mike: An overwhelming thanks to you Coty for the opportunity to share some of the Fuzzy Ink inner workings.  You do a phenomenal job with your blog and I hope we can help to bring you some unique visitors.  Safe endeavors my friend…

I’d like to thanks John Paul from Fuzzy Ink who contact me and was a blast to work with on this and the rest of the Fuzzy Ink team (Justin and Mike) who helped with this interview! I wish all of you the best in the future and many many tee (and mustaches) sales!